x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pires out to halt Barca's charge

Villarreal can stop Barcelona completing a clean sweep over their closest challengers when the leaders visit the Madrigal, according to Robert Pires.

MADRID // Villarreal can stop Barcelona completing a clean sweep over their closest challengers when the leaders visit the Madrigal on Sunday, according to the midfielder Robert Pires. Barca have won 12 of their last 13 games to go eight points clear at the top, and fourth-placed Villarreal have the last chance to trip them up before the winter break. Barca's run has seen them demolish second-placed Valencia 4-0, third-placed Sevilla 3-0, and fifth-placed Atletico Madrid 6-1. Last weekend, champions Real Madrid succumbed 2-0 to slip down to sixth.

"Barca are the best team in the league but they are not invincible," said Pires. "We have done well against Barca in recent meetings and beaten them a few times." The weekend's other outstanding encounter sees struggling Real Madrid host Valencia on Saturday. For Valencia it is a chance to avenge their defeat in the season-opening Spanish Super Cup, when they let slip a 3-2 first leg advantage to lose 4-2 at the Bernabeu.

"As a footballer you feel the need for revenge because of the way we lost that game [the second leg]," the Valencia winger Joaquin said. "Real Madrid are not in good shape but we cannot fall into the trap of thinking it will be easy to beat them." Real have lost four of their last five league matches. Atletico Madrid will be looking to build on their 14 match unbeaten run in all competitions when they visit Espanyol on Saturday and Sevilla visit troubled Real Mallorca on Sunday.

* Reuters